Current offering by the year-round New Jersey Repertory Company at the Jersey shore is the world-premiere summer sudser "A Child's Guide to Innocence," penned by Vincent Sessa. Keenly acted and fluently staged, the drama suffers from too much, too soon.
Current offering by the year-round New Jersey Repertory Company at the Jersey shore is the world-premiere summer sudser “A Child’s Guide to Innocence,” penned by Vincent Sessa. Three generations of an Italian-American family are crowded into an 80-minute intermissionless play that challenges the viewer to digest a great deal of information in short order. Keenly acted and fluently staged, the drama suffers from too much, too soon.First scene finds sisters Francie (Catherine Eaton), Catherine (Corey Tazmania) and Marion (Deborah Baum) in a 1944 Brooklyn grocery store awaiting word of brother Johnny, serving aboard a ship in the Pacific and feared missing in action. The scene is dominated by wartime small talk, dotted with an abundance of flavorful period name-dropping, such as Joe DiMaggio, Walter Winchell and Tyrone Power. In the second scene, Francie becomes the more mature Frances, mother to Joan (Tazmania) and Marilyn (Baum). The year is 1975, and conversation leads to Anne Frank and the horrors of the Holocaust as “the single worst act of evil in history.” Chatter about the film “Jaws” disturbs Frances, who reveals brother Johnny fell overboard and was devoured by sharks. A reflective 1995 bedside vigil dominates the final scene, as granddaughters Julie (Tazmania) and Maria (Baum) chat about sex, Catholicism and God, plus attempt to analyze the generation of the dying Frances (now Francesca). The narrative boasts a decided cinematic flow despite Sessa’s overburdened text. It’s a dreary, rambling little affair that lacks focus and weight. Opening up and extension of the text would enhance the narrative and perhaps remove the confusion over character identity, given that transitional scenes are not clearly defined. Director Dana Benningfield has governed the action with clean pacing in spite of the confinements of the convoluted text. In proceedings dominated by blandness, perfs are honest and serviceable. Baum’s teen Maria is particularly well drawn. The actors do not change their modest wardrobe throughout. The dull set design suggests a grocery store shelf on one side and the headboard of a bed for the dying matriarch opposite, with most of the action taking place at an empty dining room table centerstage.